World Cup 2014 kicks off in Sao Paulo on Thursday with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia in Group A and starting the ball rolling on a month's worth of quality football.
Everybody has their picks for who they think is going to be lifting the trophy come July 13. The hosts are many people's tip, as are Argentina, Germany and reigning champions Spain.
Elsewhere, Belgium, Colombia and Chile are the choices of those looking to be a little more alternative.
However, before the high tension of the knockout rounds comes the tricky business of the group stages, a phase which has scuppered many in the past.
Let's take a look at the latest odds for the groups, as well as picks and projections for the qualifiers.
Group Picks and Projections
Here are the bookies' latest odds for who is going to win each group:
|Group A||Brazil (1/5)||Croatia (8/1)||Mexico (9/1)||Cameroon (25/1)|
|Group B||Spain (2/3)||Netherlands (3/1)||Chile (15/4)||Australia (66/1)|
|Group C||Colombia (20/21)||Ivory Coast (3/1)||Japan (4/1)||Greece (7/1)|
|Group D||Italy (8/5)||Uruguay (9/5)||England (9/4)||Costa Rica (50/1)|
|Group E||France (4/5)||Switzerland (5/2)||Ecuador (4/1)||Honduras (28/1)|
|Group F||Argentina (1/5)||Bosnia-Herzegovina (6/1)||Nigeria (10/1)||Iran (40/1)|
|Group G||Germany (2/3)||Portugal (5/2)||Ghana (9/1)||USA (9/1)|
|Group H||Belgium (4/7)||Russia (12/5)||South Korea (7/1)||Algeria (22/1)|
A look at the odds is not a bad predictor of who is going to qualify out of each group, with the two favourites in each pool many people's picks to make it to the knockout stages.
Certainly for Group A, there is no denying that Brazil look good to go through and Croatia will likely finish in second.
Niko Kovac has instilled discipline and organisation into his side, and the presence of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic in the squad shows they have some genuine quality.
They should have enough to see off Cameroon and also Mexico, who had a disaster in qualifying and only just made it to the World Cup.
Group B is a tough one, with Australia likely to be the whipping boys in a group that includes reigning champions Spain, beaten 2010 finalists the Netherlands and an exciting Chile side.
Australia 1st team to arrive in Brazil for WC. Gonna need all the prep they can get. Toughest draw of any nation, Spain, Holland & Chile.— Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) May 29, 2014
While Spain will likely go through on top, Chile look to be a very dangerous side and may well qualify ahead of the Netherlands in second place.
World Cup Groups. Group B looks the toughest: Spain, Holland,Chile and Australia. pic.twitter.com/Jyr5bnhD4w— The FootballQuandary (@FootyQuandary) May 27, 2014
Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal head a squad of great potential, and their clash with the Netherlands on June 23 will likely decide second spot.
Colombia will likely qualify on top of Group C, but the Ivory Coast could be in line for yet another early World Cup exit as Japan look an exciting prospect.
The Ivorian golden generation—scuppered in 2006 and 2010 by very difficult groups—may now just be too old to go the distance here. Furthermore, the talismanic Yaya Toure may not be available for their opener:
Côte d'Ivoire midfielder Yaya Toure is a doubt for their opening World Cup game against Japan on Saturday due to a hamstring injury— SuperSport Blitz (@SuperSportBlitz) June 10, 2014
Japan have a terrific passing game, and with Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa in the side, should have enough to reach the last 16 in Brazil.
Group D is a very tough one to call. Unlike many of the other groups, there is not even a clear winner. Italy should take the top spot, especially considering their impressive record in competitive matches, per Mike Martignago via The Guardian's Paolo Bandini:
Ahem "@MikeMartignago: Prandelli's Italy in friendlies: 4 W, 9 D, 9 L. In competitive matches: 20 W, 8 D, 3 L (losses to Spain x 2, Brazil)"— Paolo Bandini (@Paolo_Bandini) June 4, 2014
Second place looks like being England's, per beIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri, especially as Uruguay's star man Luis Suarez is battling an injury.
Too much pessimism around England: they'll be very close to top the group: my groups C+D analysis and predictions http://t.co/6DdUhIZ6pq— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 10, 2014
Group E merely looks like a matter of which order France and Switzerland will finish in. France come into the tournament off the back of a massive 8-0 win over Jamaica, per BBC Sport. However, maybe surprisingly, Switzerland are the sixth-highest-ranked team in the world, per ESPN FC:
Last FIFA World Rankings before the World Cup: 1) Spain 2) Germany 3) Brazil 4) Portugal 5) Argentina 6) Switzerland pic.twitter.com/j2H1RMiWy7— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 5, 2014
Group F is Argentina's. With a side that includes Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria et al, they may go all the way.
However, second-place is up for grabs and will likely be taken by either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Nigeria. If Edin Dzeko performs, the Super Eagles will be on the early plane home.
Group G arguably pips Group B as the toughest in the tournament, made up of Germany, USA, Ghana and Portugal.
Germany should top the group, while Portugal look likely to make it through in second. However, Cristiano Ronaldo's fitness could be a key factor in how this group finishes.
Finally, Group H sees much-fancied Belgium looking for top spot. However, Russia could spring a surprise and finish in first place.
Their entire squad is made up of home-based players, per MatchStory, which should provide great unity and knowledge of each other's play. Meanwhile, Belgium lack tournament experience, which could be costly.
There are likely to be some upsets in the group stages as teams play their way into form and unexpected stars emerge.
While there are a handful of teams who look a sure thing for the knockout rounds, for everyone else, unpredictability reigns.
With only three games in the group stages, one slip can signal the end. Who will be heading home early in 2014, and who will survive to fight another day?
All odds via Oddsshark.com